The uplifting saga of a man who escaped genocidal Cambodia, became a U.S. citizen, then served in the Bush I and Bush II administrations.
After recounting his privileged childhood and adolescence, Siv chronicles six years of “life under the sword” as the fledgling Cambodian republic battled first the North Vietnamese and then the murderous Khmer Rouge. After this communist faction took Phnom Penh in April 1975, the author, a college graduate and teacher, was relegated to grueling slave labor. In 1976, he worked up the courage to escape, crossing the border into Thailand on foot. Sponsored by an American family in Wallingford, Conn., Siv immigrated at age 28 to the United States, where the second half of his memoir takes place. After menial employment in restaurants and a stint as a New York City cab driver, he gained admission to the Columbia School of International Affairs and graduated into white-collar jobs. Eventually, Siv’s intelligence and ambition brought him to the attention of prominent Republicans, who recruited him into the administration of George H.W. Bush as a deputy assistant for public liaison, charged with informing Americans from various organized constituencies, including uprooted Cambodians and other Southeast Asians, about the president’s policies. He was able to return to Cambodia on official missions, and he shares his understandably strong emotions as well as his findings of fact while observing his native country’s struggles to return to a civilized state. Writing in his adopted language of English, Siv relies heavily on clichés and oversimplified scenarios, proclaiming his love for America in chapter after chapter. His chatty prose is easy to absorb, but his editor ought to have insisted on logical transitions between scene shifts. After George W. Bush entered the White House, Siv returned to politics, this time as a deputy ambassador to the United Nations, serving until 2006.
Occasionally tedious, but often moving and frequently educational.